15 October 2017

St. Luke Painting the Madonna and Child in
the Presence of Raphael. Source: avangelista.com

      St. Luke: The “scribe of Christ’s gentleness”

     These words from Dante perfectly describe St. Luke’s presentation of Jesus in the third Gospel. This week, we celebrate St. Luke’s feast day on 18 October. Since Luke was himself a physician, it seems only natural that he would portray Christ as the Divine Physician of souls. In referring to the gentleness of Christ, Dante was not describing our Lord in some kind of effeminate way. Instead, Christ’s gentleness involved the direct contact He had with sinners, the sick, outcasts, and Gentiles who all felt as though God were somehow distant from them or that they could not approach God due to the various circumstances of their lives. God’s response is always the merciful outreach to such persons as an invitation to enter into His very life. As such, invitations by their very nature demand a response. Our response to God’s call in our lives ought to be one of ready and willing service to Him by becoming holy as He is holy. We imitate the ones who we love the most; as the old adage says, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” However, our relationship with God is meant to grow beyond mere superficial flattery. We are meant to become the very sons and daughters of God who enjoy His own divine life freely offered by adoption into His grace in this life as a prelude for even greater things to come in the next!

     St. Luke’s Gospel is so endearing in the lives of so many Christians because, among many other reasons, he shows us the perfect human nature of Jesus. In seeing who Jesus is, we see who we are to become more and more each day. Since God has definitively entered into our history at the Incarnation, His purpose is to sanctify us daily by our lives lived in union with Him. Salvation history continues in our own time, and each one of us is very much a part of that history. St. Luke’s purpose in his Gospel was to show how Gentile converts to Christianity who lived now in more urban centers surrounded by pagans in a Roman Empire could live their Catholic faith with purpose and meaning. Two thousand years later, nothing has changed in that regard. This is why contemporary Christians find so much that we can relate to in Luke’s Gospel. His themes resonate with us today and will continue to do so until the Second Coming of Christ in glory.

     St. Luke presents us with the largest number of parables among the four Gospels; he has twenty-four. Among these parables, eighteen are unique to Luke. Within these stories from the lips of Christ, we see how Jesus was concerned with showing how God’s invitation to come to Him was not limited to Jews only. In fact, Jesus’ various encounters with the Samaritans of all people—especially in relating the parable of the Good Samaritan—was highly shocking and considered insulting to the Jews of His day. How could Jesus presume to declare that the arch-enemies of the Jews could also have a place in the family and kingdom of God? Yet, we are familiar today with Jesus as the Shepherd who goes out in search of the lost sheep of Israel particularly because of His offer to bring all persons into the household of God regardless of our preconceived exceptions. 

     The offer of salvation as a welcoming invitation was seen in Jesus’ public life in His mercy and forgiveness that He readily offered to others; He expected, of course, that we would extend the same mercy and forgiveness to others. The parable of the Prodigal Son is unique to St. Luke, and in it, we see the perfect image of who God the Father is. Unfortunately, to this very day, so many people misunderstand God as an ossified, law-obsessed Person only. The distortions of God abound. However, a close reading of the Prodigal Son dispels many misconceptions of who He truly is and how He desires above all to have a relationship of trust and union with us. The forgiveness shown to Zacchaeus, the tax collector, another account found only in Luke, presents the free gift of mercy that is ours for the asking. However, we also know that God’s mercy is not cheap. Zacchaeus made a change of life. Similarly, the tax collector in the Temple who asked for God’s forgiveness in the midst of the arrogant Pharisee knew that a change in his life was due. No one can come from an authentic encounter with Jesus and remain the same. Sin and its attendant imperfections are shown in the light of Christ Himself. Only by our relying and depending on Him to root out any shadows in our life will we come to know the joy that God has in store for those who truly and completely desire to follow Him.

     God’s joy is not a simple emotion, however. St. Luke presents joy as a confident union with God in following His ways despite whatever the world says. Joy is present at the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth and at Jesus’ nativity with the angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest…” Jesus Himself says that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who turns away from sin and turns toward God (see chapter 15). The Eleven Apostles return to Jerusalem filled with joy after Jesus’ Ascension as they wait for the promised coming of the Holy Spirit. Their lives radiated joy once Pentecost occurred even though the Apostles had a difficult mission facing rejection and death very often. Yet, their joy was not taken away because they could see the final purpose of their lives. It was not here, but in eternity with God. May we also have similar joy that comes from the Holy Spirit as we fulfill our own mission in daily life.

     Our daily life mirrors in many ways the pilgrimage that our ancestors in faith carried out. John the Baptist’s preaching that echoed the Prophet Isaiah was that we should morally make straight the way of the Lord in our life. The way of the Lord began with Abraham when he left his homeland and trusted that God would fulfill His promise and settle him and his family in a new land; so He did. The ancient Israelites set out on a pilgrimage out of Egypt into the Promised Land (which Abraham had been given) through the desert for forty years. Later, they would make another pilgrimage back to their land out of Babylon where they were in exile. Jesus Himself was on a pilgrimage for three years, as it were, to head to Jerusalem for His Paschal Mystery. Jesus is presented by Luke as on-the-move. Even after His Resurrection, Jesus joins his initially downcast disciples on their road to Emmaus until they realize who was walking beside them the entire time. Likewise, each of us is on a pilgrimage through this life. The here and now is not our destination. We daily show our fidelity to God and His life within our own. To the extent that we do that well, we grow in grace. To the extent that we fail, we make a humble admission of our weakness and failure and go to Confession (just like the Prodigal Son). 

     Most importantly, Jesus has promised that we do not undertake our pilgrimage in life alone. He has freely given us everything we need. The Church herself is our loving mother who tends to all of our spiritual and sometimes our material needs. The Holy Spirit is our guide and advocate every day to keep us on the path to Christ. Our daily prayers in union with Jesus keep our connections with Him strong and vibrant. That is why St. Luke is also called the “Evangelist of the Holy Spirit” and the “Evangelist of Prayer” because his Gospel shows Jesus always praying to the Father on our behalf with the promise that we would never be left as orphans because His Holy Spirit would be with us. May we have daily recourse to the Holy Spirit and come to know Jesus even better through the Gospel of St. Luke, a true scribe of Christ’s gentleness. 

    May you have a most blessed and holy week!

    Fr. Shawn William Cutler

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